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Exposure Guide

Black Cat Exposure Guide
Reviewed by Jim Doty, Jr.

What do you do when it is too dark for your camera meter to read the scene? Or what do you do when your camera is functioning normally but the meter quits? Hopefully, you reach into your camera bag or backpack and pull out a well designed and comprehensive exposure guide.  If you don't have an exposure guide now, let me recommend the BLACK CAT EXPOSURE GUIDE (Extended Range) shown to the left.

When the three section guide is folded up (as shown above) it is slightly larger than 3 3/4 inches by 7 1/2 inches (9.7 cm x 19.3 cm).

On the outside there is a three part dial with SCENE letters (explained in a moment), a  FILM SPEED DIAL and an APERTURE AND SHUTTER SPEED triangle.

Inside the GUIDE there is a complete listing of photographic scenes along with their corresponding letters.  There are also some additional NOTES for some of the scenes, ZONE information for black and white photography, LIGHT LEVEL information, plus PINHOLE PHOTOGRAPHY information.  On the back of the GUIDE there is an 18% GRAY CARD.


The BLACK CAT EXPOSURE GUIDE is well designed and easy to use.  Simply open the GUIDE and read down the alphabetic list of SCENES until you find the kind of scene you are going to shoot. Look to the left of your scene and you will find a LETTER.  That is the LETTER for your scene. Go to the dial on the front of the GUIDE.  Turn the FILM SPEED dial until the film speed you are using is opposite the LETTER for your scene.

Now turn the triangle shaped APERTURE and SHUTTER SPEED dial until the aperture you want to use shows in the triangle's aperture notch.  Now you can read the recommended shutter speed in the triangle's window, along with other shutter speeds for bracketing. (If you don't understand apertures and shutter speeds, read about Exposure.)


You are going to photograph a landscape at night with 100 speed slide film and the light source is the full moon. You want to use an aperture of f/4.  Open the guide and look for your scene in the alphabetic scene listing. You find MOONLIT . . . . . landscape with full moon. (Please Note: The exposure for a landscape lit by the moon is very different from the exposure for photographing the moon itself.)

BLACK CAT EXPOSURE GUIDE, partial scene listing.

To the left of your scene you see the letter S. This is the SCENE LETTER for a landscape lit by the full moon.

Go to the dial on the front of the GUIDE, and turn the FILM SPEED dial until your film speed of 100 is opposite the LETTER S (for your selected scene).

Go to the triangle dial and turn it until your chosen aperture of f/4 appears in the aperture notch.

Once your aperture of f/4 has been dialed in, you can read the recommended shutter speed of 3 minutesIf you want to bracket your exposure by one stop, use shutter speeds of 1 minute and 6 minutes.  If you want to bracket by two stops, use shutter speeds of 30 seconds and 12 minutes. 



I highly recommend bracketing. This is, after all, a GUIDE.  This GUIDE will get you close (usually within a stop or two) and will save from from wild guessing or excessive bracketing.

You can pick any aperture you want and read the corresponding shutter speed(s).

If you want to bracket by changing apertures, move the triangle until the shutter speed you want appears in the window.  Use the aperture in the notch and then try apertures on either side of that. Of course you have to pick a useable aperture for your scene and the film you are using.  With 100 speed slide film, you won't be able to get a photo of a moonlit landscape with a shutter speed of 1/60 second, no matter what aperture you choose.


There are over 70 scenes listed in the GUIDE, enough that one of them should be close to what you are going to photograph.  The GUIDE includes a wide variety of both indoor (circus, ice shows, hospital nurseries, night clubs) and outdoor (fireworks, star trails, Christmas trees) scenes for both day and night. The fourteen scenes shown above are just a few of the scenes shown in the guide.

Reciprocity Failure

Note that the shutter speeds are not linear at longer shutter speeds (i.e. 1 minute, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, 8 minutes, and so on). That is because the BLACK CAT EXPOSURE GUIDE allows for reciprocity failure of film (film starts slowing down at long exposures and responds more slowly to light).


The Black Cat web site with all of their products is here.  The Exposure Guide is here

Leonard Lee Rue has the BLACK CAT EXPOSURE GUIDE in his catalog and on his web site (home page). The specific page on his site with the Black Cat Guide is here.

March 7, 2001
Updated April 9, 2005

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